Decoding Google’s AI Ambitions (and Anxiety)
Decoding Google’s AI Ambitions (and Anxiety)
Anyone who’s experimented with ChatGPT can get a sense of the potential of generative AI—even in the technology’s earliest stages.
The hype around AI was rising throughout 2022, and has reached a fever pitch today.
We’ve seen hype cycles swell around specific technologies before. Blockchain, Metaverse, NFTs, the list goes on. It remains to be seen what tangible value is created after the heat dies down, but in the meantime, some of the world’s biggest companies are taking it very seriously.
Google—which internally reoriented itself around AI years ago—is at the forefront of this movement, so the recent letter published by Google CEO Sundar Pichai is consequential.
After all, billions of people use Google Search to learn about the world, and Alphabet is one of the world’s most valuable, powerful tech companies. But before we “read between the lines” of the letter, it’s worth revisiting the larger context that this letter addresses.
OpenAI Has Entered The Chat
Artificial intelligence has been chalking up a number of wins in recent months, but it was DALL-E Mini and ChatGPT that really allowed generative AI to burst into the public consciousness. In fact, ChatGPT became so popular in a short amount of time, that Google declared an internal “code red” to address the issue. Leaders at Google were well aware of the disruptive power of conversational AI because they were already testing their own models internally.
Microsoft recognized the potential as well, and invested $10 billion in OpenAI, which runs ChatGPT as well as a number of other publicly-accessible AI tools. Microsoft’s intention was to bring the magic of ChatGPT over to their Bing search engine—and perhaps steal market share away from Google.
This sets the stage for what we’re seeing today. Essentially every big tech firm is singing AI’s praises, and Microsoft and Google appear to be entering into an AI race.
The AI Race is Heating Up
If there were any questions about how seriously Google was taking Microsoft’s new partnership with OpenAI, recent messaging should remove all doubt. The letter above, by Sundar Pichai speaks volumes while never straying far from official talking points. First, here is the high-level messaging in Pichai’s letter:
- Google has already been in the AI game for years now
- Bard is going to make Google search more ChatGPT-like
- Google is only late to the party because they’ve been careful
On this last point: a message from the CEO, which reaffirms the company’s commitment to AI would normally coincide with a product launch, not one that will be released to the public “in the coming weeks”. This messaging highlights a key barrier that Google is facing. Fearing the “reputational damage” that could come from rolling products out prematurely, the company has been forced to move slower than the market now expects.
Google has already endured a painful misstep after reporters discovered an incorrect answer in a promotional video touting the conversational AI service, Bard. This simple mistake cost Alphabet $100 billion in market value—demonstrating how high the stakes are now that Big Tech’s AI progress is under the microscope.
The timing of this letter is also very telling. The letter was published the day before Bing rolled out new AI-enabled features to the public.
Let the jockeying for position begin.
Nobody Wants to be Left Behind
Google and Microsoft may be the biggest players battling it out in the AI space, but there are indicators all over that AI represents a massive technological shift that will impact a number of industries. From Fiverr’s “Open Letter to AI” to Baidu’s recent AI chatbot announcement, it seems that every day brings fresh news that fuels AI hype.
One thing’s for sure: AI will be integrated into digital tools in more noticeable ways. And for better or worse, we’ll all be participating the experiment.
Ranked: America’s Largest Semiconductor Companies
This graphic visualizes the market capitalizations of America’s 15 largest semiconductor companies.
Ranking America’s Largest Semiconductor Companies
As our world moves further into an era of widespread digitization, few industries can be considered as important as semiconductors.
These components are found in almost everything we use on a daily basis, and the ability to produce them domestically has become a topic of national security. For example, in 2022 the Biden administration announced the CHIPS and Science Act, which aims to strengthen America’s position in everything from clean energy to artificial intelligence.
With this in mind, we’ve ranked the top 15 U.S. semiconductor companies by their market capitalizations.
Data and Highlights
The data we used to create this infographic is listed in the table below. Year-to-date (YTD) returns were included for additional context. Both metrics are as of May 30, 2023.
|Rank||Company||Ticker||Market Cap (USD billions)||YTD Return|
|13||Marvell Technology Group||MRVL||$54||76.2%|
At the top is Nvidia, which became America’s newest $1 trillion company on Tuesday, May 30th. Shares pulled back slightly over the day and Nvidia closed at $992 billion. Over the past decade, Nvidia has transformed from a gaming-focused graphics card producer to a global leader in AI and data center chips.
In third and sixth place are two of America’s most well known chipmakers, AMD and Intel. These longtime rivals are moving in opposite trajectories, with AMD shares climbing 770% over the past five years, and Intel shares falling 47%. One reason for this is the data center segment, in which AMD appears to be stealing market share from Intel.
Further down the list we see Applied Materials in seventh, and Lam Research in ninth. Both firms specialize in semiconductor manufacturing equipment and thus play an important role in the industry’s supply chain.
Trade War Impacts
As tensions between the U.S. and China escalate, chipmakers are becoming increasingly entangled in geopolitical conflict.
In October 2022, the Biden administration introduced new export controls aimed at blocking China’s access to semiconductors produced with U.S. equipment. This impacted several companies in our top 15 list, including Lam Research and Applied Materials.
Shortly after the export controls were announced, Lam Research said it expected to lose upwards of $2.5 billion in annual revenues.
We lost some very profitable customers in the China region, and that’s going to persist, obviously.
– Doug Bettinger, CFO, Lam Research
In response, China announced in May 2023 that it would no longer allow America’s largest memory chipmaker, Micron, to sell its products to “critical national infrastructure operators”.
This is not the first time Micron has been involved in a controversy with China. In 2018, the firm alleged that Fujian Jinhua Integrated Circuit, a Chinese state-owned company, had solicited a Micron employee to steal specifications for memory chips. The U.S. Department of Commerce imposed export restrictions on Fujian Jinhua as a result.
Chipmakers on both sides of the Pacific will be closely watching as competition between these two countries heats up.
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